Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1819: TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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1819: TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 9 February, 1819.
In your last letter you consider me in debt, and I will not dispute it.
You seem to wish me to write something to diminish the fame of Sam Adams, to show that he was not a man of profound learning, a great lawyer, a man of vast reading, a comprehensive statesman. In all this, I shall not gratify you.
Give me leave to tell you, my friend, that you have conceived prejudices against that great character; and I wonder not at it. At present, I shall make only one observation. Samuel Adams, to my certain knowledge, from 1758 to 1775, that is, for seventeen years, made it his constant rule to watch the rise of every brilliant genius, to seek his acquaintance, to court his friendship, to cultivate his natural feelings in favor of his native country, to warn him against the hostile designs of Great Britain, and to fix his affections and reflections on the side of his native country. I could enumerate a list, but I will confine myself to a few. John Hancock, afterwards President of Congress and Governor of the State; Dr. Joseph Warren, afterwards Major-General of the militia of Massachusetts, and the martyr of Bunker’s Hill; Benjamin Church, the poet and the orator, once a pretended, if not a real patriot, but, afterwards, a monument of the frailty of human nature; Josiah Quincy, the Boston Cicero, the great orator in the body meetings, the author of the Observations on the Boston Port bill, and of many publications in the newspapers. I will stop here for the present. And, now, I will take the liberty of perfect friendship to add, that, if your Judge Minot, your Fisher Ames, or your honorable senator, Josiah Quincy the third, had been as intimately acquainted with Samuel Adams, as Hancock, Warren, and Josiah Quincy the second, they would have been as ardent patriots as he was. If Samuel Adams was not a Demosthenes in oratory, nor had the learning of a Mansfield in law, or the universal history of a Burke, he had the art of commanding the learning, the oratory, the talents, the diamonds of the first water that his country afforded, without anybody’s knowing or suspecting he had it, but himself, and a very few friends.
I have much more to say concerning Samuel Adams, but I cannot write, and I am exhausted with dictating, and must content myself with adding that I am, and, I believe, ever shall be, your affectionate friend.
TO WILLIAM WILLIS.
Quincy, 21 February, 1819.
I thank you for your address to the New Bedford Auxiliary Society for the suppression of Intemperance, which I have read with pleasure and edification. It abounds in ingenuity and information; it is eloquent and pathetic, it is pious and virtuous; it addresses itself to the understanding and the heart. A drunkard is the most selfish being in the universe; he has no sense of modesty, shame, or disgrace; he has no sense of duty, or sympathy of affection with his father or mother, his brother or sister, his friend or neighbor, his wife or children, no reverence for his God, no sense of futurity in this world or the other. All is swallowed up in the mad, selfish joy of the moment. Is it not humiliating that Mahometans and Hindoos should put to shame the whole Christian world by their superior examples of temperance? Is it not degrading to Englishmen and Americans that they are so infinitely exceeded by the French in this cardinal virtue? And is it not mortifying beyond all expression that we, Americans, should exceed all other and millions of people in the world in this degrading, beastly vice of intemperance?
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 23 February, 1819.
As you were so well acquainted with the philosophers of France, I presume the name and character of Mademoiselle de l’Espinasse is not unknown to you.
I have almost put out my eyes by reading two volumes of her letters, which, as they were printed in 1809, I presume you have read long ago. I confess I have never read any thing with more ennui, disgust, and loathing; the eternal repetition of mon dieu and mon ami, je vous aime, je vous aime éperdument, je vous aime à la folie, je suis au désespoir, j’espère la mort, je suis morte, je prend l’opium, &c., &c.
She was constantly in love with other women’s husbands, constantly violating her fidelity to her own keepers, constantly tormented with remorse and regrets, constantly wishing for death, and constantly threatening to put herself to death, &c., &c., &c. Yet this great lady was the confidential friend of M. Turgot, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, the Duchess d’Enville, M. Condorcet, the only lady who was admitted to the dinners which Madame Geoffrin made for the literati of France and the world, the intimate friend of Madame Boufflers, the open, acknowledged mistress of the great D’Alembert, and much admired by Marmontel.
If these letters and the fifteen volumes of De Grimm are to give me an idea of the amelioration of society, and government, and manners in France, I should think the age of reason had produced nothing much better than the Mahometans, the Mamelukes, or the Hindoos, or the North American Indians have produced, in different parts of the world.
Festina lente, my friend, in all your projects of reformation. Abolish polytheism, however, in every shape, if you can, and unfrock every priest who teaches it, if you can.
To compensate, in some measure, for this crazy letter, I inclose to you Mr. Pickering’s1 Essay on the Pronunciation of the Greek Language, which, very probably, you have received from various quarters before now, and with it, I pray you to accept assurances of the unabated friendship of your humble servant.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 7 March, 1819.
On the 20th of January, 1768, the House of Representatives appointed a committee to prepare a petition to the king, and letters to his ministers, and a letter to the agent. Knowing that such a committee was appointed, and that they were busily employed in preparing those representations, and meeting Mr. Otis one morning, I asked him, “How do you proceed with your petitions and letters?” He answered, “I have drawn them all up, and given them to Sam to quieu whew them.” Whether this word is Arabic or Seminole, I know not. I believe it was an oddity of his own invention. These letters were printed in London, by Almon, in 1768, in a pamphlet. These letters, from beginning to end, demonstrate the rough cast of James Otis and the polish and burnish of Samuel Adams. The first is a petition to the king. In every sentence of this petition the hand of Otis is visible; in page 8, in this paragraph, particularly.
“With great sincerity permit us to assure your Majesty, that your subjects of this province ever have and still continue to acknowledge your Majesty’s high court of Parliament the supreme legislative power of the whole empire; the superintending authority of which is clearly admitted in all cases that can consist with the fundamental rights of nature and the constitution, to which your Majesty’s happy subjects in all parts of your empire conceive they have a just and equitable claim.”
The next letter is to the Earl of Shelburne. This letter, also, in every paragraph, demonstrates the hand of Mr. Otis. In page 15:—
“It is the glory of the British constitution that it has its foundation in the law of God and nature. It is essentially a natural right, that a man shall quietly enjoy and have the sole disposal of his own property. This right is engrafted into the British constitution, and is familiar to the American subjects; and your lordship will judge whether any necessity can render it just and equitable in the nature of things, that the supreme legislative of the empire should impose duties, subsidies, talliages, and taxes, internal or external, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue, upon subjects that are not and cannot, considering their local circumstances, by any possibility be equally represented, and consequently whose consent cannot be had in Parliament. The security of right and property is the great end of government. Surely, then, such measures as tend to render right and property precarious, tend to destroy both property and government; for these must stand or fall together. Property is admitted to have an existence in the savage state of nature; and, if it is necessary for the support of savage life, it becomes by no means less so in civil society. The House entreat your lordship to consider whether a colonist can be conceived to have any property which he may call his own, if it may be granted away by any other body without his consent; and they submit to your lordship’s judgment, whether this was not actually done, when the act for granting to his Majesty certain duties for paper, glass, and other articles, for the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue in America, was made. It is the judgment of Lord Coke, that the Parliament of Great Britain cannot tax Ireland quia milites ad parliamentum non mittant; and Sir William Jones, an eminent jurist, declared it as his opinion to King Charles II., that he could no more grant a commission to levy money on his subjects in Jamaica, without their consent by an assembly, than they could discharge themselves from their allegiance to the crown.”
I have selected this paragraph merely as a specimen; but every other sentence in the letter carries demonstrative marks of the hand of James Otis. The next letter was to General Conway, dated February 18th, 1768. This letter, also, bears indelible marks of the hand of James Otis. Page 22d:—
“The House is at all times ready to recognize his Majesty’s high court of Parliament, the supreme legislative power over the whole empire. Its superintending authority in all cases consistent with the fundamental rules of the constitution, is as clearly admitted by his Majesty’s subjects in this province as by those within the realm.”
This paragraph is an infallible stamp of the then character of James Otis’s opinions. This opinion was not mine. I could not and would not have consented to it, for long before this time I was fully convinced that Parliament had no legal and constitutional authority over us, in any case whatsoever. Page 23:—
“It is the glory of the British prince and the happiness of all his subjects, that their constitution hath its foundation in the immutable laws of nature, and as the supreme legislative, as well as the supreme executive, derives its authority from that constitution, it should seem that no laws can be made or executed that are repugnant to any essential law in nature. Hence, a British subject is happily distinguished from the subjects of many other States, in a just and well-grounded opinion of his own safety, which is the perfection of political liberty.”
This whole paragraph is James Otis in perfection; the sense of every line of it is his. It may be thought a minute criticism, but it is characteristic and infallible. Otis and the majority of the committee derived all authority from the constitution. Samuel Adams would have derived it only from the people; the people with him were every thing, and constitutions nothing. Otis and Adams, however, might have agreed in expression, for it is certain that no constitution can be made by any other power than the people. The letter proceeds, page 23:—
“It is acknowledged to be an unalterable law in nature, that a man should have the free use and sole disposal of the fruit of his honest industry, subject to no control. The equity of this principle seems to have been too obvious to be misunderstood by those who framed the constitution, into which it is engrafted as an established law. It is conceived that this principle gave rise, in early time, to a representation in Parliament, where every individual in the realm has since been and is still considered by acts of Parliament as present by himself or by his representative of his own free election: consequently the aid afforded there to the sovereign is not in the nature of a tribute, but the free and voluntary gift of all”
All the subsequent paragraphs of this letter carry indelible marks of Otis’s hand, smoothed with the oily brush of Sam Adams. The next letter is to the Marquis of Rockingham, January 22d, 1768. Page 28:—
“Your lordship is pleased to say, that you will not adopt a system of arbitrary rule over the Colonies, nor do otherwise than strenuously resist, where attempts shall be made to throw off that dependency to which the Colonies ought to submit. And your lordship, with great impartiality, adds, ‘not only for the advantage of Great Britain, but for their own real happiness and safety.’ This House, my Lord, have the honor heartily to join with you in sentiment; and they speak the language of their constituents. So sensible are they of their happiness and safety, in their union with and dependence upon the mother country, that they would by no means be inclined to accept of an independency, if offered to them.”
This was the sentiment of James Otis and of a majority of that committee and of their constituents; but whether it was cordially the sentiment of Sam Adams at that time, I submit to the judgment of his grandson. I could not have consented to that paragraph without limitations and explanations. If we could have been sure of continuing our old connection, I should have preferred it to independence; but rather than submit to the sovereign authority of Parliament, I would not only have accepted independence, if offered, but would have fought for it, if refused. Page 29th:—
“My Lord, the superintending power of that high court” (the Parliament) “over all his Majesty’s subjects in the empire, and in all cases which can consist with the fundamental rules of the constitution, was never questioned in this province, nor, as the House conceive, in any other. But, in all free States the constitution is fixed It is from thence that the supreme legislative, as well as the supreme executive, derives its authority, neither, then, can break through the fundamental rules of the constitution without destroying their own foundation It is humbly conceived, that all his Majesty’s happy subjects, in every part of his wide extended dominions, have a just and equitable claim to the rights of that constitution, upon which government itself is formed, and by which sovereigntv and allegiance are ascertained and limited. Your lordship will allow us to say, that it is an essential right of a British subject, engrafted into the constitution, or, if your lordship will admit the expression, a sacred and unalienable natural right, quietly to enjoy and have the sole disposal of his own property.”
This and all the subsequent paragraphs in this letter are but abridgments of the sentiments uttered by Otis in 1761, in his arguments against the execution of the dormant acts of trade. The next letter is to Lord Camden, page 33:—
“If in all free States the constitution is fixed and the supreme legislative power of the nation from thence derives its authority can that power overleap the bounds of the constitution without subverting its own foundation? If the remotest subjects are bound by the ties of allegiance, which this people and then forefathers have ever acknowledged, are they not by the rules of equity entitled to all the rights of that constitution, which ascertains and limits both sovereignty and allegiance? If it is an essential, unalterable right in nature, engrafted into the British constitution as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what is a man’s own is absolutely his own and that no man hath a right to take it from him without his consent, may not the subjects of this province, with a decent firmness, which has always distinguished the happy subjects of Britain, plead and maintain this natural constitutional right? The superintending authority of his Majesty’s high court of Parliament over the whole empire, in all cases which can consist with the fundamental rights of the constitution, was never questioned in this province, nor, as this House conceive, in any other.”
Here, Mr. Otis, Mr. Adams, and the whole committee, are undoubtedly in an error; they made too ample a concession. The authority of Parliament had always been questioned and always disputed until the year 1675, when it was denied not only by Governor Leverett, but the legislature of the colony, and it was ever after questioned by the best informed and thinking men both in this province and in many others, if not in all:—
“But they entreat your lordship’s reflection one moment on an act of Parliament passed the last session, and another in the fourth of his present Majesty’s reign, both imposing duties on his subjects in America, which, as they are imposed for the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are, in effect, taxes. The position, that taxation and representation are inseparable, is founded on the immutable laws of nature, but the Americans had no representation in the Parliament, when they were taxed; are they not then unfortunate in these instances, in having that separated, which God and nature had joined?”
Every other paragraph in the letter is demonstrative of the hand of Otis. Page 36:—
“A power without a check is always unsafe, and in some future time may introduce an absolute government into America. The judges of the land here do not hold their commissions during good behavior; is it not, then, justly to be apprehended that, at so great a distance from the throne, the fountain of national justice, with salaries altogether independent of the people, an arbitrary rule may take effect, which shall deprive a bench of justice of its glory and the people of their security?”
The next letter is to the Earl of Chatham, February 2d, 1768. This is principally a letter of compliment, but it may not be amiss to quote a sentence or two. Page 38:—
“It must afford the utmost satisfaction to the distressed colonists to find your lordship so explicitly declaring your sentiments in that grand principle in nature, that ‘what a man hath honestly acquired, is absolutely and uncontrollably his own.’ This principle is established as a fundamental rule in the British constitution, which eminently hath its foundation in the laws of nature; and consequently it is the indisputable right of all men, more especially of a British subject, to be present in person, or by representation, in the body where he is taxed. But, however fixed your lordship and some others may be in this cardinal point, it is truly mortifying to many of his Majesty’s free and loval subjects that even in the British Parliament, that sanctuary of liberty and justice, a different sentiment seems of late to have prevailed.”
The rest of the letter is but a repetition of the complaints in former letters, and a representation of the merits of the colonies in all former times in the public service. The next is a letter to the commissioners of the treasury. This, in general, is a repetition of the substance of the former letters, a little varied in expression. Page 45:—They complain of the duties levied by the offensive acts of Parliament, as imposed with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, and to be applied in the first place for the making a more certain and adequate provision for the charge of the administration of justice and support of civil government, &c., &c.
The next letter is a circular letter “to the speakers of the respective Houses of Representatives and Burgesses on this continent; a copy of which was also sent to Dennis de Berdt, Esquire, their agent, by order of the House, that he might make use of it, if necessary, to prevent any misrepresentation of it in England.” This letter is but a kind of recapitulation of the former letter.
The letter to the Earl of Shelburne, which follows, is dated January 22d, 1768. This letter relates to proceedings between Governor Bernard and the House, relative to a letter of his lordship which the House had been permitted to hear, but not to see, and relative to charges against them, which had been supposed to have been preferred by Bernard himself. I shall quote but one paragraph from their vindication of themselves for having left out the judges from their legislative council.
“The non-election of several gentlemen of distinguished character and station was by no means the effect of party prejudice, private resentment, or motives still more blamable, but the result of calm reflection upon the danger that might accrue to our excellent constitution and the liberties of the people from too great a union of the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers of government, which, in the opinion of the greatest writers, ought always to be kept separate; nor was this a new opinion, formed at a certain period, but it has been the prevailing sentiment of many of the most sensible and unexceptionable gentlemen in the province for many years past, upon principles which your lordship’s thorough knowledge of the constitution and the just balance of the several powers of government, this House is assured, will justify.”
The last letter, dated January 12th, 1768, is to Dennis de Berdt, Esq., agent for the House. Page 59:—
“The fundamental rules of the constitution are the grand security of all British subjects; and it is a security, which they are all equally entitled to, in all parts of his Majesty’s extended dominions. The supreme legislative in every free State derives its power from the constitution, by the fundamental rules of which it is bounded and circumscribed. As a legislative power is essentially requisite, where any powers of government are exercised, it is conceived the several legislative bodies in America were erected, because their existence and the free exercise of their power, within their several limits, are essentially important and necessary to preserve to his Majesty’s subjects in America the advantages of the fundamental laws of the constitution. When we mention the rights of the subjects in America, and the interest we have in the British constitution, in common with all other British subjects, we cannot justly be suspected of the most distant thought of an independency on Great Britain. Some, we know, have imagined this of the colonists; and others, perhaps, may have industriously propagated it, to raise groundless and unreasonable jealousies of them; but it is so far from the truth, that we apprehend the colonies would refuse it, if offered to them, and would even deem it the greatest misfortune to be obliged to accept it. They are far from being insensible of their happiness in being connected with the mother country, and of the mutual benefits derived from it to both,” &c. &c.
Here, Mr. Tudor, let me pause. Whatever Mr. J. Otis or Mr. S. Adams, or Colonel Otis, or Major Hawley, or Mr. Samuel Dexter, the illustrious committee who sanctioned these letters, thought at that time, I could not have given my unqualified assent to the foregoing paragraph, for I certainly had distant thoughts of an independency of Great Britain, long before I ever saw the face of any one of that committee, even as long ago as the years 1755, 56 and 57. When living at Worcester, and knowing the miserable conduct of Shirley, Braddock, Loudon, Webb, and others, in conducting the war and managing American affairs, I ardently wished that we had nothing to do with Great Britain, and firmly believed that the American colonies, if left to themselves, and suffered to unite, might defend themselves against the French, much better without Great Britain than with her. Now we will proceed with our quotations from the letter.
“It is the glory of the British constitution that it hath its foundation in the law of God and nature. It is an essential natural right that a man shall quietly enjoy and have the disposal of his own property. This right is adopted into the constitution. This natural and constitutional right is so familiar to the American subjects, that it would be difficult, if possible, to convince them that any necessity can render it just, equitable, and reasonable, in the nature of things, that the Parliament should impose duties, subsidies, talliages, and taxes upon them, internal or external, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue. The reason is obvious; because they cannot be represented, and, therefore, their consent cannot be constitutionally had in Parliament.”
They then remark upon the declaratory act, and the subsequent revenue acts, which I pass over, to page 63:—
“It is observable, that though many have disregarded life and contemned liberty, yet there are few men who do not agree, that property is a valuable acquisition, which ought to be held sacred. Many have fought and bled and died for this, who have been insensible to all other obligations. Those who ridicule the ideas of right and justice, faith and truth among men, will put a high value upon money. Property is admitted to have an existence, even in the savage state of nature. The bow, the arrow, and the tomahawk, the hunting and the fishing ground, are species of property as important to an American savage, as pearls, rubies, and diamonds are to the Mogul, or a Nabob in the east, or the lands, tenements, hereditaments, messuages, gold and silver of the Europeans. And, if property is necessary to the support of savage life, it is by no means less so in civil society. The Utopian schemes of levelling, and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable as those which vest all property in the crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional. Now, what property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent?”
To do justice to this letter, I must transcribe every word of it; but I have already, you will think, transcribed too much, though every line is a diamond. We will pass to page 65:—
“Our ancestors were in one respect not in so melancholy a situation as we, their posterity, are. In those times, the crown and the ministers of the crown, without the intervention of Parliament, demolished charters, and levied taxes on the colonies, at pleasure. Governor Andros, in the time of James II., declared that wherever an Englishman sets his foot, all he hath is the king’s. And Dudley declared at the council board, and even on the sacred seat of justice that the privilege of Englishmen not to be taxed without their consent, and the laws of England, would not follow them to the ends of the earth. It was also in those days declared in council, that the king’s subjects in New England did not differ much from slaves, and that the only difference was, that they were not bought and sold. But there was even in those times an excellent attorney-general, Sir W. Jones, who was of another mind, and told king James that he could no more grant a commission to levy money on his subjects in Jamaica, though a conquered island, without their consent, by an assembly, than they could discharge themselves from their allegiance to the English crown. But the misfortune of the colonists at present is, that they are taxed by Parliament without their consent. This, while the Parliament continues resolved to tax us, will ever render our case, in one respect, more deplorable and remediless, under the best of kings, than that of our ancestors was, under the worst. They found relief by the interposition of Parliament; but, by the intervention of that very power we are taxed, and can appeal for relief from their final decision to no power on earth: for there is no power on earth above them.”
For the rest of this admirable letter, I must refer you to the printed volume in which it is found, rich as it is, both in style and matter. Upon an attentive and careful review of all these letters, I can find nothing to ascribe to Mr. Adams. Every sentence and every word of them appears to me to be Mr. Otis’s. They are but an abridgment, a concise compendium of Mr. Otis’s argument against the execution of the acts of trade in 1761, seven years before these letters were written. If Mr. Otis himself had not informed me that he had given them all to Mr. Sam Adams to be revised, I should not have suspected that Mr. Adams had any thing to do in the composition of them; for Mr. Otis was as severe a critic, and as capable of writing well, as any man of that time. He only did not love to revise, correct, and polish. If Mr. Adams had really any share in these compositions, it must have been only in the collocation of words. “Proper words in proper places,” is a definition of style. Swift, in these four words, has expressed the essence of a learned, acute, and celebrated treatise of Dionysius Halicarnassensis concerning the arrangement of words. This arrangement of words is indeed a matter of great consequence. Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon, owed more their fame to this than to their accuracy or impartiality; woe to the writer in this age of the world, who is rash enough to despise or neglect it!
TO JOHN TAYLOR, OF CAROLINE.
Quincy, 12 March, 1819.
The painful difficulty of holding a pen, which has been growing upon me for many years, and now, in the middle of the eighty-fourth year of my age, has become insupportable, must be my apology, not only for terminating my strictures upon your Inquiry, but for the necessity I am now under of borrowing another hand to acknowledge the receipt of your polite and obliging letter of February 20th.1 I have never had but one opinion concerning banking, from the institution of the first, in Philadelphia, by Mr. Robert Morris and Mr. Gouverneur Morris, and that opinion has uniformly been that the banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquillity, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation, than they can have done or ever will do good. They are like party spirit, the delusion of the many for the interest of a few. I have always thought that Sir Isaac Newton and Mr. Locke, a hundred years ago, at least, had scientifically and demonstratively settled all questions of this kind. Silver and gold are but commodities, as much as wheat and lumber; the merchants who study the necessity, and feel out the wants of the community, can always import enough to supply the necessary circulating currency, as they can broadcloth or sugar, the trinkets of Birmingham and Manchester, or the hemp of Siberia. I am old enough to have seen a paper currency annihilated at a blow in Massachusetts, in 1750, and a silver currency taking its place immediately, and supplying every necessity and every convenience. I cannot enlarge upon this subject; it has always been incomprehensible to me, that a people so jealous of their liberty and property as the Americans, should so long have borne impositions with patience and submission, which would have been trampled under foot in the meanest village in Holland, or undergone the fate of Wood’s halfpence in Ireland. I beg leave to refer you to a work which Mr. Jefferson has sent me, translated by himself from a French manuscript of the Count Destutt Tracy. His chapter “of money” contains the sentiments that I have entertained all my lifetime. I will quote only a few lines from the analytical table, page 21. “It is to be desired, that coins had never borne other names than those of their weight, and that the arbitrary denominations, called moneys of account, as £, s., d., &c., had never been used. But when these denominations are admitted and employed in transactions, to diminish the quantity of metal to which they answer, by an alteration of the real coins, is to steal; and it is a theft which even injures him who commits it. A theft of greater magnitude and still more ruinous, is the making of paper money; it is greater, because in this money there is absolutely no real value; it is more ruinous, because, by its gradual depreciation during all the time of its existence, it produces the effect which would be produced by an infinity of successive deteriorations of the coins. All these iniquities are founded on the false idea, that money is but a sign.” Permit me to recommend this volume to your attentive perusal.
Although an intimacy and a friendship existed between Mr. Patrick Henry and me in 1774, and continued till his death, yet I would not strip the laurels from other men to decorate his brows. Indulge me, Sir, in the vanity of inclosing to you a copy of an original letter from Mr. Henry to me, now in my hand, dated May 20th, 1776.1 I had sent him a copy of that marble-covered pamphlet, which I once sent to you, entitled “Thoughts on Government,” and it is of that he acknowledges the receipt, and expresses his opinion.
If you can contribute any thing, Sir, to convince or persuade this nation to adopt a more honest medium of commerce, you will have my most cordial wishes for your success.
TO J. H. TIFFANY.
Quincy, 31 March, 1819.
Your political chart is a happy thought, and an invention as useful as it is ingenious. Accept my best thanks for the present you have made me of it, and for your obliging favor of March 18th, which came to my hand but yesterday.
As I have always been convinced, that abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division in society, the time has been when I would have attended you with pleasure in your pursuit of correct definitions. Liberty and republic are two words which you have judiciously chosen; but my forces are exhausted, and my days wellnigh spent. I therefore can be of no service to you.
Dr. Price has defined civil liberty, as distinguished from physical, moral, and religious liberty, to be the power of a civil society to govern itself, by its own discretion, or by laws of its own making, by the majority in a collective body or by fair representations.
I would define liberty to be a power to do as we would be done by. The definition of liberty to be the power of doing whatever the laws permit, meaning the civil laws, does not appear to be satisfactory. But I would rather refer you to other writers than to any thing of my own. Sidney. Harrington, Locke, Montesquieu, and even Hobbes, are worth consulting, and many others.
Custom is said to be the standard of the meaning of words; and for the purposes of common parlance it may answer well enough; but when science is concerned, something more technical must be introduced. The customary meanings of the words republic and commonwealth have been infinite. They have been applied to every government under heaven; that of Turkey and that of Spain, as well as that of Athens and of Rome, of Geneva and San Marino. The strict definition of a republic is, that in which the sovereignty resides in more than one man. A democracy, then, is a republic, as well as an aristocracy, or any mixture of both.
The Federalist is a valuable work, and Mr. Madison’s part in it as respectable as any other. But his distinction between a republic and a democracy, cannot be justified. A democracy is as really a republic as an oak is a tree, or a temple a building. There are, in strictness of speech and in the soundest technical language, democratical and aristocratical republics, as well as an infinite variety of mixtures of both.
TO J. H. TIFFANY.
Quincy, 30 April, 1819.
Of republics, the varieties are infinite, or at least as numerous as the tunes and changes that can be rung upon a complete set of bells. Of all the varieties, a democracy is the most natural, the most ancient, and the most fundamental and essential.
In some writing or other of mine, I happened, currente calamo, to drop the phrase, “The word republic, as it is used, may signify any thing, every thing, or nothing.” For this escape, I have been pelted for twenty or thirty years with as many stones as ever were thrown at St. Stephen, when St. Paul held the clothes of the stoners. But the aphorism is literal, strict, solemn truth. To speak technically, or scientifically, if you will, there are monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical republics. The government of Great Britain and that of Poland are as strictly republics as that of Rhode Island or Connecticut under their old charters. If mankind have a right to the voice of experience, they ought to furnish that experience with pen and paper to write it, and an amanuensis to copy it.
I should have been extremely obliged to you, if you had favored me with Mr. Jefferson’s sentiments upon the subject. As I see you have an inquiring mind, I sincerely wish you much pleasure, profit, and success in your investigations. I have had some pleasure in them, but no profit; and very little, if any, success.
In one of your letters, you say that my Defence has become rare. This is strange. Mr. Dilly published an edition of it in London. An edition of it was published in Boston, another in New York, another in Philadelphia, before the adoption of the present constitution of the national government, and before one line of the Federalist was printed. Since that, Mr. Cobbet, alias Porcupine, printed a large edition of the whole work in Philadelphia, and Mr. Stockdale, of Piccadilly, has published another large edition in London. It has been translated into the French and German languages. And what has become of all these copies? Have they been torn up, or thrown away, to line trunks?
TO ROBERT J. EVANS.
Quincy, 8 June, 1819.
I respect the sentiments and motives, which have prompted you to engage in your present occupation, so much, that I feel an esteem and affection for your person, as I do a veneration for your assumed signature of Benjamin Rush. The turpitude, the inhumanity, the cruelty, and the infamy of the African commerce in slaves, have been so impressively represented to the public by the highest powers of eloquence, that nothing that I can say would increase the just odium in which it is and ought to be held. Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States. If, however, humanity dictates the duty of adopting the most prudent measures for accomplishing so excellent a purpose, the same humanity requires, that we should not inflict severer calamities on the objects of our commiseration than those which they at present endure, by reducing them to despair, or the necessity of robbery, plunder, assassination, and massacre, to preserve their lives, some provision for furnishing them employment, or some means of supplying them with the necessary comforts of life. The same humanity requires that we should not by any rash or violent measures expose the lives and property of those of our fellow-citizens, who are so unfortunate as to be surrounded with these fellow-creatures, by hereditary descent, or by any other means without their own fault. I have, through my whole life, held the practice of slavery in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a negro or any other slave, though I have lived for many years in times, when the practice was not disgraceful, when the best men in my vicinity thought it not inconsistent with their character, and when it has cost me thousands of dollars for the labor and subsistence of free men, which I might have saved by the purchase of negroes at times when they were very cheap.
If any thing should occur to me, which I think may assist you, I will endeavor to communicate it to you; but at an age, when
very little can be expected from, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 22 June, 1819.
May I inclose you one of the greatest curiosities and one of the deepest mysteries that ever occurred to me? It is in the Essex Register of June 5th, 1819. It is entitled the Raleigh Register Declaration of Independence. How is it possible that this paper should have been concealed from me to this day? Had it been communicated to me in the time of it, I know, if you do not know, that it would have been printed in every whig newspaper upon this continent. You know, that if I had possessed it, I would have made the hall of Congress echo and reecho with it fifteen months before your Declaration of Independence. What a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass is Tom Paine’s “Common Sense,” in comparison with this paper! Had I known it, I would have commented upon it, from the day you entered Congress till the fourth of July, 1776. The genuine sense of America at that moment was never so well expressed before, nor since. Richard Caswell, William Hooper, and Joseph Hewes, the then representatives of North Carolina in Congress, you knew as well as I, and you know that the unanimity of the States finally depended on the vote of Joseph Hewes, and was finally determined by him. And yet history is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine! Sat verbum sapienti.1
TO WILLIAM BENTLEY.
Quincy, 15 July, 1819.
A few weeks ago I received an Essex Register, containing resolutions of independence by a county in North Carolina, fifteen months before the resolution of independence in Congress. I was struck with so much astonishment on reading this document, that I could not help inclosing it immediately to Mr. Jefferson, who must have seen it, in the time of it, for he has copied the spirit, the sense, and the expressions of it verbatim, into his Declaration of the 4th of July, 1776. Had I seen that declaration at the time of it, it should have been printed in every whig newspaper on this continent. Its total concealment from me is a mystery, which can be unriddled only by the timidity of the delegates in Congress from North Carolina, by the influence of Quakers and proprietary gentlemen in Pennsylvania, the remaining art and power of toryism throughout the continent at that time. That declaration would have had more effect than Tom Paine’s “Common Sense,” which appeared so long after it. I pray you to intercede with the printers to transmit me half a dozen copies of that Register, which contains it, and I will immediately transmit the money for them, whatever they may cost. That paper must be more universally made known to the present and future generation.
TO RICHARD BLAND LEE.
Quincy, 11 August, 1819.
I thank you for your oration on the red letter day in our national calendar, which I have read with mingled emotions. An invisible spirit seemed to suggest to me, in my left ear, “nil admirari, nil contemnere:” another spirit, at my right elbow, seemed to whisper in my ear, “digito compesce labellum.” But I will open my lips, and will say that your modesty and delicacy have restrained you from doing justice to your own name, that band of brothers, intrepid and unchangeable, who, like the Greeks at Thermopylæ, stood in the gap, in defence of their country, from the first glimmering of the Revolution in the horizon, through all its rising light, to its perfect day.
Thomas Lee, on whose praises Chancellor Wythe delighted to dwell, who has often said to me that Thomas Lee was the most popular man in Virginia, and the delight of the eyes of every Virginian, but who would not engage in public life; Richard Henry Lee, whose merits are better known and acknowledged, and need no illustration from me; Francis Lightfoot Lee, a man of great reading well understood, of sound judgment, and inflexible perseverance in the cause of his country; William Lee, who abandoned an advantageous establishment in England from attachment to his country, and was able and faithful in her service; Arthur Lee, a man of whom I cannot think without emotion; a man too early in the service of his country to avoid making a multiplicity of enemies; too honest, upright, faithful, and intrepid to be popular; too often obliged by his principles and feelings to oppose Machiavelian intrigues, to avoid the destiny he suffered. This man never had justice done him by his country in his lifetime, and I fear he never will have by posterity. His reward cannot be in this world.
TO WILLIAM BENTLEY.
Quincy, 21 August, 1819.
I thank you for the Raleigh Register and National Intelligencer. The plot thickens.
The name of the Cato of North Carolina, the honest, hoary-headed, stern, determined republican, Macon, strikes me with great force. But here is an accumulation of miracles.
1. The resolutions are such as every county in the thirteen colonies ought to have taken at that moment.
2. The Suffolk resolves, taken about the same time, were sufficiently famous, and adopted by Congress.
3. I was on social, friendly terms with Caswell, Hooper, and Hewes, every moment of their existence in Congress; with Hooper, a Bostonian, and a son of Harvard, intimate and familiar. Yet, from neither of the three did the slightest hint of these Mecklenburg resolutions ever escape.
4. Is it possible that such resolutions should have escaped the vigilant attention of the scrutinizing, penetrating minds of Patrick Henry, R. H. Lee, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Gadsden, Mr. Rutledge, Mr. Jay, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Samuel Adams? Haud credo. I cannot believe that they were known to one member of Congress on the fourth of July, 1776.
5. Either these resolutions are a plagiarism from Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, or Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is a plagiarism from those resolutions. I could as soon believe that the dozen flowers of the Hydrangea, now before my eyes, were the work of chance, as that the Mecklenburg resolutions and Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration were not derived the one from the other.
6. The declaration of one of the most respectable of the inhabitants of this city, Raleigh, ought to be produced.
7. The papers of Dr. Hugh Williamson ought to be searched for the copy sent to him, and the copy sent to General W. R. Davie. The Declaration of Independence made by Congress on the fourth of July, 1776, is a document, an instrument, a record that ought not to be disgraced or trifled with.
8. That this fiction is ancient and not modern, seems to be ascertained. It is of so much more importance that it should be thoroughly investigated.1
I know not whether I have written the tenth part of the reflections that have occurred to me; but I have written more than my eyes and nerves can well bear.
TO WILLIAM E. RICHMOND.
Quincy, 14 December, 1819.
I have received your polite favor of the 10th, the subject of which is of great importance.
I am old enough to remember the war of 1745, and its end; the war of 1755, and its close; the war of 1775, and its termination; the war of 1812, and its pacification. Every one of these wars has been followed by a general distress; embarrassment on commerce, destruction of manufactures, fall of the price of produce and of lands, similar to those we feel at the present day, and all produced by the same causes. I have wondered that so much experience has not taught us more caution. The British merchants and manufacturers, immediately after the peace, disgorged upon us all their stores of merchandise and manufactures, not only without profit, but at certain loss for a time, with the express purpose of annihilating all our manufacturers, and ruining all our manufactories. The cheapness of these articles allures us into extravagance and luxury, involves us in debt, exhausts our resources, and at length produces universal complaint.
What would be the consequence of the abolition of all restrictive, exclusive, and monopolizing laws, if adopted by all the nations of the earth, I pretend not to say. But while all the nations, with whom we have intercourse, persevere in cherishing such laws, I know not how we can do ourselves justice without introducing, with great prudence and discretion, however, some portions of the same system.
The gentlemen of Philadelphia have published a very important volume upon the subject, which I recommend to your careful perusal. Other cities are coöperating in the same plan. I heartily wish them all success, so far as this at least, that Congress may take the great subject into their most serious deliberation, and decide upon it according to their most mature wisdom. The publications upon this subject in this country, within the year past, have been very luminous, and I recommend them all to your careful investigation. Upon the subject of political economy at large, I know of nothing better than a volume lately printed at Washington, written by Senator Tracy, in France, but never published there; well translated from a manuscript, by Mr. Jefferson. It contains the pith and marrow of the science; the great works of Sir James Stuart, of Adam Smith, and the lesser work of the Chevalier Pinto, are well worth your study, though I believe you will not agree with them in all things. The writings of Dr. Quesnay, and his disciples in France, may be worth your research and perusal, because some ideas may be collected from them, though I confess I could never perfectly understand them, nor agree with them in many things which I thought I did understand.
Your prospectus of a manufacturer’s journal promises to be useful, and you appear to be very well qualified to conduct it; but I would not advise you to sacrifice your profession to it, because a man of talents and integrity at the bar is a character of great respectability and utility among his fellow-citizens.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 18 December, 1819.
I must answer your great question of the 10th in the words of D’Alembert to his correspondent, who asked him what is matter; “Je vous avoue que je n’en sais rien.” In some part of my life I read a great work of a Scotchman on the court of Augustus, in which, with much learning, hard study, and fatiguing labor, he undertook to prove that, had Brutus and Cassius been conquerors, they would have restored virtue and liberty to Rome. Mais je n’en crois rien. Have you ever found in history one single example of a nation thoroughly corrupted, that was afterwards restored to virtue? And without virtue, there can be no political liberty.
If I were a Calvinist, I might pray that God, by a miracle of divine grace, would instantaneously convert a whole contaminated nation from turpitude to purity; but even in this I should be inconsistent, for the fatalism of Mahometans, Materialists, Atheists, Pantheists, and Calvinists, and Church of England articles, appears to me to render all prayer futile and absurd. The French and the Dutch in our day have attempted reforms and revolutions. We know the results, and I fear the English reformers will have no better success.
Will you tell me how to prevent riches from becoming the effects of temperance and industry? Will you tell me how to prevent riches from producing luxury? Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and folly?
When you will answer me these questions, I hope I may venture to answer yours. Yet all these things ought not to discourage us from exertion, for, with my friend Jebb, I believe no effort in favor of virtue is lost, and all good men ought to struggle, both by their counsel and example.
The Missouri question, I hope, will follow the other waves under the ship, and do no harm. I know it is high treason to express a doubt of the perpetual duration of our vast American empire and our free institutions; and I say as devoutly as father Paul, “Esto perpetua;” but I am sometimes Cassandra enough to dream that another Hamilton, another Burr, might rend this mighty fabric in twain, or, perhaps, into a leash, and a few more choice spirits of the same stamp might produce as many nations in North America as there are in Europe.
To return to the Romans. I never could discover that they possessed much virtue or real liberty. Their patricians were, in general, griping usurers and tyrannical creditors in all ages. Pride, strength, and courage, were all the virtues that composed their national character. A few of their nobles affecting simplicity, frugality, and piety, perhaps really possessing them, acquired popularity among the plebeians, extended the power and dominions of the republic, and advanced in glory till riches and luxury came in, sat like an incubus on the republic, “victamque ulciscitur orbem.”
Our winter sets in a fortnight earlier than usual, and is pretty severe. I hope you have fairer skies and milder air. Wishing your health may last as long as your life, and your life as long as you desire it, I am, &c.
[1 ] Mr. John Pickering, distinguished for his learning and his literary pursuits in paths little explored in America, in his day.
[1 ] This letter is printed in vol. iii. p. 58, note.
[1 ] Printed in vol. iv. page 201.
[1 ] Mr. Jefferson’s answer is printed in Mr. Randolph’s collection, vol. iv. p. 314. He called the Mecklenburg paper “a very unjustifiable quiz.”
[1 ] This subject has been since very formally investigated by a committee of the General Assembly of North Carolina. Their report made in 1830-31, is printed in Force’s American Archives, fourth series, vol. ii. c. 855, note. A copy of the paper has also been found in the archives of the British government. No historical fact is better established.